Senator Linthicum newsletter

Recently, I wrote an article proposing a “Thought Experiment” where I suggested reverting back to managing our forests as a viable natural resource instead of as a random, chaotic and untamable wilderness.

My premise was that the “preserve the wilderness” experiment which has been foisted on the public is a natural disaster in the making.

I received tons of e-mail responses and I appreciate the stories that were shared with me. Today, I will share some of the thoughtful responses which I received:

“Your article is spot on. In Arizona, we have lost 29% of our forests due to forest fires, primarily in Wilderness Areas where you can’t even take mechanized equipment in for anything.  We have data where a thinned and managed forest butts up to an unmanaged forest and a fire virtually stopped.” – Mike

“No one at the city, county, state or federal level is responsive to what the public, who has to endure the absolute destruction of their timberlands and the subsequent suffocating smoke, thinks or wants from their public lands. The USFS mantra that fire is a good and natural ‘tool’ has seemed to have taken firm hold in the minds of those who hold absolute control over our public lands.” – Jeff

“Thank you for writing what several of us have been discussing for a while.  I raise cattle in both the valley and my ranch, which borders the Crooked River National Grass lands outside of Madras, on the side.  I also enjoy hunting and fishing where I’ve seen exactly what you wrote in your editorial.” – Mike

“Having family land in South Dakota devastated by out of control fires and almost an entire forest destroyed by the bark beetle (which the forestry dept. refused to deal with until half (?) of the Harney national forest was dead) we know the frustration of ill-thought out policies.” – Jackie

“Now that is a breath of fresh air. Having worked in the timber industry and as a firefighter for over 20 years, it is nice to hear someone speaking like this.” – Ray

“I have served my country most of my life as a veteran and with the US Treasury. I am born and raised Oregonian as my family has been for a century. I can’t say any of us have seen a spotted owl, but we have certainly seen the social, moral and financial decline of our home. What are we to do?” – Joshua

“I strongly disagree with your wilderness scenario. Please provide any peer reviewed study that reflects your opinion that a wilderness designation leads to destruction of that ecosystem.” – Linda

“I grew up in the 30’s & 40’s as a daughter of a timber faller, living in rural Washington state. I don’t ever recall forest fires in that time span…  So, there is truth in what you mentioned about this was their lively hood. Maybe this is what we need to get back to taking care of our natural resources.”  – June

“This is a very direct and honest appraisal of the current situation. I do find a couple of problems with it, however. First, common sense went out the door several decades ago.” – Brad

“While I agree with most of your comments, I disagree on the debris [in streambeds comments]. Back when they shut down logging to save Spotted Owl, I was a logger, when they shut down all logging. They hired us to remove all the debris in the screams for fish habitat. They found out the fish needed that debris in the creeks to create pools so they could lay eggs and hatch. So, the forest service paid us to put debris back into the streams.” – Jim

“Sisters economic engine is tourism and we have been affected by the smoke in Central Oregon. I appreciate your thoughts and comments on failed forest policy that is so affecting our businesses in the west.” – Judy

My claim is basic: Where there is lots of smoke, you will find bad policy at the root. We know that wildfires are often caused by natural phenomenon, such as lightning. However, wildfires are not like the natural disasters occurring from the hurricanes and tornadoes of the Gulf coast. The difference is that with our forests, we can exercise far more control and management, both before and after a fire event. Our ability, as stewards, to manage and intervene is the key. This is policy.

The mega-fires that are ravaging the Western states are typically on federal land and are directly related to USFS policy. Fewer trees are being removed from public federal lands and as a result, there is more forest debris with dead and dying trees left on the forest floor. The theory is that these trees will decompose and add to the nutrient resiliency of the forest landscape. However, this debris is also the fuel for the spread and propagation of weeds, grasses and brushy undergrowth which, in turn, is the fuel for wildfires.

Therefore, in the complex forest landscapes across Oregon, a “one-size” policy is inappropriate. Sometimes grasses should be promoted, sometimes not. Sometimes acreage should be thinned to 30 trees per acre, others 100 or more.


In this regard, incentives matter and can dramatically impact the very heart and soul of our forest management policy and our fire suppression efforts. Our federal bureaucracies are too expensive, slow and unyielding when it comes to managing a wildfire with boots on the ground strategies.

The current incentive structure for funding and managing large-scale fire complexes is perverse and the “one-size” format is detrimental to the well-being of our wildlife, watersheds, forests and ourselves.

Now is the time to pressure Washington into either changing forest policy by giving states greater autonomy in managing these lands or returning public lands back to the states.